Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Next Quest - Searching for Doctor Who!

I have officially started my art quest for 2016!  I am once again working on custom deck of playing cards, but this deck will be more important than ever before.  This new deck is going to a gift to my wife for our 15th anniversary!  Because this is such an important deck, I had to make sure that I picked a theme that would truly encompass all time and space, which of course means, I had to make it a Doctor Who deck!

Both my wife and I are huge Doctor Who fans and I feel getting 56 custom pieces of Who-related art would be a great way to celebrate our 15th anniversary.

In keeping with my previous custom decks, I am going to try and complete this deck once again with the help of Magic: the Gathering artist.  While I'm not going to be attending quite as many Grand Prix events this year, I am attending some on the East Coast, which I hope will let me engage with artist I don't normally run into (as I mostly do West Coast events).

I've set this deck up in the following ways: Each suit will be a specific category of Who.  Hearts will be the 13 Doctors, the Diamonds will be companions, Clubs items/places in the Who-universe and Spades the villains.  The four Jokers will be different version of the Doctor Who logo.

And now, the first batch of cards that I received from Grand Prix Seattle/Tacoma!

(Ps: Please note, these are some of the best pieces that I've ever gotten, so you may become stunned by their awesomeness).

Christopher Rush

Lake Hurwitz

Lake Hurwitz

Chuck Lukacs

Chuck Lukacs

Ken Meyer Jr.

Ken Meyer Jr.

Rob Alexander

Rob Alexander

Jesper Myfors

Pete Venters

Zack Stella

Clint Cearley

Clint Cearley

Mark Poole

RK Post

RK Post

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Quest Complete! +10XP

The completion of a great quest and start of a new one

I have finally found the time to record the completion of my Magic Deck art project!  When we last left off, our “intrepid hero” had just finished traveling to Grand Prix San Jose and acquired some awesome new cards for the deck (see previous post).  After GPSJ, I knew the finish line was in sight, because only a short while afterwards was going to be one of the greatest (and now largest) Grand Prix events in history – Grand Prix Las Vegas!  Taking place over four days with over 10,000 magic players and a massive amount of artist, I knew this would be my chance to cross the finish line with this art project.  After GPSJ I was missing 16 cards to complete the set and I made it my goal (even more so than actually playing Magic!) to get those cards completed!

Starting Thursday morning, I immediately made a bee-line to the artist alley to get in the first of many lines.  I knew I was going to have some serious time on my hands waiting to grind through the lines.  Some lines took hours, and yet like any quest, when you see your goal you can endure just about anything!  One of the best parts of waiting in these queues, was chatting with other quest goers and sharing my project with them.  Quite a few folks were greatly impressed and even commented that they wanted to try something similar.  I hope my enthusiasm and encouragement gave some others the start they needed to begin their own art quest!  I wanted to give a special “shout out” to Pete Venters, who normally no longer does alters, was kind enough to do two for me.  I’m not sure if it was because of my constant whining/begging of the encouragement of some of the other artist (mostly it was the encouragement of the other artist), but I greatly appreciated his contribution to this project.
I do want to apologize for how long it has taken me to finally post these pictures – while I was in Las Vegas, I received a call from my wife that an offer we put on a house was accepted and that we had a whole lot of work to do in a very little amount of time.  The day I returned home from Las Vegas I started the massive job of packing and moving our place, organizing contractors for our new place, and finally moving all our loot into the new place!  It’s been almost 6 months, but our lives are finally back in enough order that I found the time today to complete the story of this quest.
And like all great quests, this one has finally come to an end!

Of course, with the ending of one great quest it means only one thing… The beginning of a new quest!  The other reason that I knew I had to this done, is this coming weekend I’m heading to Grand Prix Seattle/Tacoma and with it, my newest art project quest!  I had such a good time with the deck of cards, I’m going to continue using cards as the medium for this project, but I’m completely changing the subject matter.  While I’m hoping to engage many of the great Magic artist, I’m not going to be doing Magic-related art this time (it will certainly still have many of the fantasy-styles that they are known for, I hope!).  As soon as I get back I will share the new quest as well as the first new pieces!

8 of Spades (Ponder) and 4 of Diamonds (Solemn Simulacrum) by Daniel Scott

Queen of Diamonds (Elspeth) and 5 of Spades (Tamiyo) by Eric Deschamps

Four of Hearts (Mana Leak) and Four of Spades (Sign in Blood) by Howard Lyon

Hearts Joker (Nicol Bolas) by Izzy 

Ten of Clubs (Bazaar of Baghdad) and Ten of Diamonds (Sword to Plowshares) by Jeffrey Menges

Three of Clubs (Night's Whisper) and Two of Spades (Rakshasa) by John Severin Brassell 

Nine of Clubs (Abyss) and Five of Diamonds (Kiki-Jiki) by Pete Venters 

Six of Hearts (Vendilion Clique) by Willian Murai

Six of Clubs (True-Name Nemesis) by Zack Stella

Ten of Clubs (Pendelhaven) by Byron Wackwitz 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

88 Day - The Art Quest Project - Trophies from San Jose

Amazing Additions from Grand Prix San Jose

Last weekend was Grand Prix San Jose - basically in my back yard - and it was a 4-day event!  I was very excited; I didn't need to worry about airfare as well as being able to spend 4 days hanging out with a lot of my friends playing games!  Normally Grand Prix events are only 3 days, and as much fun as I have playing games, I also really enjoy meeting and talking with all of the artist.  With 3 days, I know that many of the artist are going to be really busy and so I try and not take up too much of their time with chit-chat, particularly because it takes me a few minutes to explain the Real Magic Deck art project to them as well as show them the cards that I've already had completed.  Having that extra day gave my a great opportunity to spend some time talking with some awesome artist and engage with them on other aspects of art. 

I was lucky enough to get to talk with Ken Meyers Jr., Mark Poole, Jason Felix and Chuck Lukacs (and got to meet John Severin Brassell and Kieran Yanner).  I want to mention that I have some absolutely awesome friends.  Many of my friends are scientist, engineers, teachers, actors, and other types of wicked-smart geniuses.  My IQ goes up 20 points just by osmosis hanging around them.  But I don't really have many friends who are artist (and I'm certainly not saying artist aren't wicked-smart geniuses, as the rest of this story will soon show).  This leads to much of my "artsy" discussions via the Internet and reading books.  So here I was presented with a chance to chat with many artist whom I've been a fan of for years, I was overjoyed.  

Just a sample of some of the things I got to experience:

Learning many new painting techniques which created some beautiful abstract pictures (and that I am very much looking forward to trying). 

Talking about the science of photography and how it has changed over the last 20 years (film to digital). 

The art and styling of steampunk, gothic-punk (think "Blade Runner") and Pin-Up art, just to name a few.

How artist connect emotionally with viewers (be it positive or negative).

Many types of music discussion, including techno-swing!  

And many more topics that just made my day (and entire event to be honest).  

I was also greatly encouraged by all of the artist I meet about this project - one even commented that he enjoyed the idea so much that he might create an entire deck based on his art, and I mentioned that I would love to be his first customer!  

As a bonus, during these conversations I realize my art project for next year!  I've already started the work spreadsheet and conceptual ideas.  More details on this later - I don't want to take away anything from these fabulous pieces!  

Burrenton Forge-Tender as the 8 of Diamonds
By Chuck Lukacs

Incremental Blight as the 3 of Spades
By Chuck Lukacs 

Ancestral Recall as the Joker (Diamonds)
By Mark Poole

Birds of Paradise as the 8 of Clubs
By Mark Poole

Guardian Beast as the 4 of Clubs
By Ken Meyer Jr.

Kird Ape as the 2 of Diamonds
By Ken Meyer Jr.

Ob Nixilis as the 6 of Spades
By Jason Felix

All is Dust as the 7 of Hearts
By Jason Felix

Valakut as the 6 of Diamonds
By Kieran Yanner

Summoning Trap as the 9 of Hearts
By Kieran Yanner

I have two more cards forthcoming from John Severin Brassell.  I was unable to connect with him until late afternoon on Sunday, so I knew it would be a situation that would require that they would be mailed, which I was fine with - I was just pleased that I got the chance to meet him.  As soon as the cards arrive I will be sure to post them here!  

Friday, February 6, 2015

89 Days - The Best "Worst" Grand Prix Ever

The Best "Worst" Grand Prix Ever

I recently returned from Grand Prix San Jose after 4 awesome days!  Two things happened at this Grand Prix that are polar opposites of each other, but together made for one of the most enjoyable Grand Prix's that I have ever attended.

Firstly, this was the worst that I have ever done at a Grand Prix.  The format was Team Limited; which is different from the normal Limited events that I normally play.  In a normal limited format, each player gets their own pool of cards and they play individually.  In Team Limited, you and two (awesometastic) friends join up to form a team and make decks/play with a combined pool of cards.  I joined with two friends who I was lucky enough to meet playing Magic a couple of years ago.  We practiced making decks, watched videos, reviewed cards, and basically felt we were ready to go!

One of the aspects that I enjoy so much about playing Limited-type games, is you receive a small (aka, "Limited") pool of random cards and that is all you get to build a deck with - and that's true for all of the player.  You don't need to spend a ton of money or have crazy-old cards to play.  In my opinion, it is the most balanced ways to play magic.  Now the thing about randomness is there will always be a curve, on average all of the card pools will be the same, but sometimes a group will open their pack of cards and get amazing cards that are all in sync and work perfectly together.  Other times you will get the cards that we opened.

During the main event of limited Grand Prix events, you are required to register your pool of cards, which basically means you have to write down all of the cards that you open so that there won't be any sort of cheating.  Once you open your cards and write all of the cards down, you pass those cards to someone else who actually gets to use those cards.  We were sitting at our table, opening our cards and writing down all of the cards that we had and were getting ready to pass them along.  While sitting there, we chatted with the other team across from us and they were joking around how bad the cards they opened were.  How all of the cards were weak and had no synergy.  We smiled and laughed along, because we all knew that when it comes to pass cards along, we normally pass 3-4 times.

The judges announced that each team pass the cards across the table.  We passed the pool we opened to the team and they passed us their cards.  We smiled, waiting for the judges to give the next pass order (such as "Pass right" or "Pass left").  The order came: "Okay everyone, that is your pool, begin deck construction".  The other team looked at us and we all saw the apologetic looks in their eyes.  They quietly began making their decks and would now-and-then sneak a peek back at us to see if we had started crying.

Our pool was just a total mess.  We were given time to make the decks and about halfway through we just started laughing.  At that point we knew decided we weren't going to worry about going 9-0, we were more worried about winning a single game!  My deck was so bad that it had an Old Maid, a 4 of diamonds, two "Wild, Draw 4" Uno cards, a business card from artist, my hotel room key, and a coupon from Subway for a free drink - lets just say not the best collection of things for a game of magic.

We made the best decks that we could and off we went!  And we were completely stomped.  A lot.  After three rounds, we somehow had a 0-2-1 result - and we were happy that we even had a draw!  It would have been loss, but we got lucky that time was called and somehow we held on just long enough to get the draw (I do want to apologize to the other team for that, we know it didn't help you guys out to get a draw, but for us that was a major accomplishment!)  After realizing that our only real chance of winning any of the future rounds was to have the other teams either all have brain embolisms or be hit by meteorites, we decided to drop out of the main event and instead go fight a lovely lunch!

After defeating a cheesesteak sandwich, we strolled back to the convention center and decided to do some team events.  I knew that we were prepared and certainly had the skills to play some team magic, but our results certainly had not shown that very well.  Staying upbeat, I got us queued up for a team draft, and to make a long(er) story, short - we kicked some butt!  We worked together and really supported each other and we ended with smiles and handfuls of prizes.

Secondly, other than the main event of the Grand Prix, I was playing some of the best magic that I have ever played.  My final results were 18-5-3 (not including main event), giving me a win percentage of 73%!  I won nearly 3.5 boxes, which was awesome!  I also got to play some of the top pros, and was even lucky enough to beat one.  I was also lucky to have played so many nice people over the 4 days (a couple "special" folk but nothing too bad).  Another bonus was having the fourth day - normally GPs are only three days - allowed me to meet and chat with quite a few of the artist (more on that in a later post).

Lots of magic, lots of good friends, one massive butt-kicking and handfuls of loot.  I guess I could have just posted that one sentence instead of all this craziness, but what fun would have that been!

Until next GP, have fun and enjoy the game!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

90 Days - Discovering Artistic Styles - Pin-Up Art

Discovering Artistic Styles
Pin-Up Art

In my continuing effort to learn more about art and its history and styles, I'm going to share some of the things that I have learned about art.  I'm going to start with an artistic style known as pin-up art.  Pin-up art is a literal form of art, in that it is a low-cost, mass produced work that is meant to be "pinned on a wall" for display.  Old advertisements, postcards, paintings, photos, and sketches could all be considered pin-up art.

The most popular pin-up art, starting as far back as the 1880's is pin-up girls.  Usually of famous actresses or other stars of the day (think Marilyn Monroe), they were used to sell just about everything from soap, orange juice, and war bonds.  They were very popular during the 1940's-1960's.  Some of the more popular pin-up girl artist include Alberto Vargas, Rolf Armstrong, and Hajime Sorayama.  You can Google these artist, just be aware, some of the art may be risque and not quite appropriate for work.

In modern times, we now have band and movie posters, show playbills and even fine art calendars.  Remember, no matter the cost of the art, the most important part of art is how it makes you feel.  You might be moved by looking at the Mona Lisa but you could be just as moved as looking at a wonderful, antique postcard that you found at a swap meet.

The next time you see a picture that you like, pin it to the wall!

A Winning Combination
by Rolf Armstrong, 1945

91 Days - Zen of Laundry

The Zen of Laundry

Laundry.  A relatively simple task, certainly not something that would cause any sort of deep, meaningful, introspective moments in life.  Or so you would think.  While doing laundry today I realized I have a lot of things that I just don't wear anymore and I asked myself: "Why am I keeping this things?"

A few things came to mind.  First, memories - many of these items have a memory from an event to place that I visited and whenever I wear them I try and relive that memory.  I am also a bit of a pack-rat, I never really throw anything away that I think I can either reuse or re-purpose later.  My dad taught me, any t-shirt to old to wear just became a brand new shop rag!   Regardless of how many new shirts that I get, I feel I can't possibly throw away any of the old ones, because you never know when you might need them!

Lastly, I hate being wasteful - I am sure there are folks out there who could use these clothes.  I'll even put them in a "donate box", but somehow they will somehow teleport themselves back into my drawers!

Today I decided that sometimes it's healthy to let some of these old anchors go.  Letting a t-shirt go will not take away any memories - in fact, in the act of letting it go I decided to write down some of the stories of how I got some of these shirts (random concerts, sports jerseys, etc.)  These items basically became small muses for me to write about, and I think that is the most that I could possibly ask of them.  Now I let some of them go, and perhaps they will help make memories for someone else.  And I'll finally get some darn drawer space for all my socks!

(Close up of Landry Room #1, by Theresa (Mixed media on canvas))

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

92 Days - Supporting Artist (The Art Quest, Part III)

Supporting Artist

Today I received two amazing pieces of artwork that I purchased at Grand Prix Denver.  Aaron Miller, a fantasy artist (i.e. Magic cards) was nice enough to paint me two custom pieces of art for my Real Magic Deck of playing cards that I've been working on for a while now (for more details, see some of my previous blog posts).  Normally I ask the artist to do a sketch or quick drawing for the cards, mainly due to their limited time availability at Grand Prix's - a lot of folks want signatures/drawings.

While these cards did cost a bit more than a normal sketch/alter, getting something when the artist really has the time to dedicate to it results in some spectacular results.  When I get pieces like this, it really reinforces to me how important it is to support artist.  Not only do you receive something truly special and unique when you support an artist but you also help them continue to be an artist (which can be a very difficult career).  The next time you see something that really grabs you - be it a custom-made magic card, a photograph, or other art piece that moves you - consider supporting the artist.  A piece of beauty that you can experience for years is certainly worth a couple weeks of Starbucks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

93 Days - Quest for the Ninja Panda

The Quest for the Ninja Panda

Back in August, 2014, I attended Grand Prix Portland, a large Magic: the Gathering event.  It was a great event, many of my friends played and I (and my awesome teammates) nearly made Day 2 (where you play for actual money prizes).  Even my wife flew up to hang out (and do a bit of shopping).

I was very pleased with my play during the Grand Prix. When Sunday rolled around I knew the event was winding down and I decided I'd just play some of the smaller, less stressful events.  Normally when I play Magic (and games in general), I value having fun playing more than I do than just winning.  When someone I'm playing with makes a mistake or I can see an area that I could help them with, I will let them "take it back" and play correctly or provide them advice to help their play.  I had just assumed that this Sunday would just be another relaxing day to play a little bit of magic and socialize a bit with other games.  Turns out I was gravely mistaken.

Nearly every Grand Prix has a charity event on Sunday.  It's a 5-round event that normally starts mid-afternoon (3-4pm).  These events are run for many different charities, but nearly always something in the gaming-genre (such as raising money for ChildsPlayCharity,org).  This particular charity event was raising money for #TeamPanda, a fund to help a young magic player who was seriously injured in a car accident (read more here).

While it might sound fun and motivating to play in an event for charity, these are brutal events.  First, they are remarkably cheap, costing only $20 for a sealed event (normally a sealed event would be $30).  This means that everyone who was nearly out of money will try and scrap together $20 to join to try and hit it big.  This leads us to the second reason these are brutal - the prizes for such a low-entry-fee are really good!  You the normal prize payout for a 5-round event (5-0 gets two boxes [aprox $200]) and there are always extra prizes donated.  Third, this is the event that a lot of people who scrubbed out of the main event on day one and then lost whatever large event they were trying to win on day two join at the last minute to try to "win something" before having to go home.  These folks are generally angry and upset, making for a crazy player environment.  You do have a few folks who do just want to play for fun and enjoy themselves (i.e., normally me).  Lastly, this is a regular rules enforcement level (REL) event, which is another way of saying: Barely any rules at all. All of this mixed together creates a whirlwind of an event.

As I was waiting in my seat to open my packs and start the chaos, the head judge was making his normal announcements ("It's for charity!!") and then he said he was going to show us the extra donated prizes that were going to be included in this event.  He showed off a playmat, drawn by RK Post, I believe.  A 1oz silver magic coin and some magic co-play costumes.

Then he held up this.

Within about 4 nanoseconds my brain instantly went from "Friendly Mr. Anth" to "Kill The Peoples" mode.  I wanted that playmat.  I needed that playmat.  I was going to have that playmat.  I've been playing magic for more than 20 years, and in that time I feel I've learned how to play the game pretty well - I know the rules and have a pretty good win percentage - but I don't consider myself a particular good player, certainly not a professional - but I knew as soon as I saw that Ninja Panda, there was not a player in that whole conference center that was going to get in my way.

I built my deck - more accurately, my deck built itself - I opened absolutely awesome cards; even the universe knew what was about to go down.  Round one pairings went up and I was paired against a somewhat new player; this was her first "big event".  I nearly felt sorry for her before the image of the Cobra Kai leader from Karate Kid screams at me: "No mercy! Mercy is for the weak!"  She made mistakes.  Small ones.  In this situation, lethal ones.  The match was over.  Round two awaited.

Round two I was paired against an older gentleman, who was quite nice.  It was not a good day for nice.  Sadly for him, it seems as if his deck was made of blank cards - he played very few cards, and those that he did, I dealt with in quick fashion.  When we were done, he thanked me for the match and actually said that he was surprised with the way I played that I wasn't still in the main event. I really appreciated that, and even commented that to me, this was the main event.  Did I mention I wanted that mat?

My third round was probably the most enjoyable (not the most fun, that was round four).  I was playing against a stuck-up, pretentious, 30-something punk who was putting other players down and basically making a fool of himself.  He was saying how great he was, how many Pro Points he had and how he would have made Day 2 in the main event, but he got game losses for stupid things and that the judges (referees) were incompetent and did not make rulings in his favor.  I swear, in my head I heard Mr. T. say "I pity da foo!"  He made dumb mistakes.  I did not let him take them back.  He made bad plays.  I stared right at him the entire time, asking him frequently "are you sure you want to do that?" and "I want to make sure, you are done, correct?".  His mind started to crack.  I did not stop for one second.  The match is the best of three games, and I won game one after a long battle.  He scrapped a win in game two and we went to game three.  It played out basically like this:

Turn 1: I play small pointed stick; attack.
Turn 2: I play medium pointed stick; attack.
Turn 3: I play thermonuclear warhead; smile evilly; attack
Turn 4: I play Deathstar; attack
Turn 5: I put away my cards and get ready for round four.

Round four was one of the most fun matches I had not only that day, but over the entire four days!  I was paired against a younger Asian lady, who when she initially sat down acted very "Oh! Hai! I've never played this game before, I must be very lucky!".  When we got our match record sheet, I looked down and saw her DCI number and commented: "Six digits huh? Guess you've been playing for a while."  She smiled and was about to say something disarming and then looked at the paper and saw my DCI.  She stopped smiling, she looked at me and said: "This will be a fun match."  She quickly changed gears in both her attitude and relaxed play style and we had a absolutely back-and-forth battle.  Other players actually started watching us play, it was very Rocky-esq.  We only played two games, and while I was playing some of the best magic I've played before, I was also just a bit luckier than she was that day.  After winning the second game, I felt mentally exhausted.  And I still had one more round to go.

Turns out, that the last round was remarkably anti-climatic.  My opponent, who turned out to be a semi-pro, but just missed playing in Day 2, had not realized that I (to quote my favorite movie ever, Blues Brothers), "Was on a mission from God."  I proceeded to draw perfect magic cards, while he drew, what I can only guess were, Uno cards, some Subway coupons, a dry cleaning ticket and a three-of-clubs.  He was, to use the technical vernacular, smooshed like a bug.

After winning I think I must have sprinted to the prize collection area.  The guy behind the counter was fumbling around trying to find the boxes to give me and I wanted to scream at him: GIVE ME THE PLAYMAT!, but I kept my cool for nearly 8 seconds after he handed it to me before I screamed "It's mine!!!"

I've won a lot of stuff playing magic over the years, but I can say without a doubt, this is one of the proudest and most awesome trophies that I've ever won!

Go Ninja Panda!